Maybe you are a professional auto mechanic, home inspector, plumber, HVAC technician, or other tradesperson — or maybe you’re eager to do some DIY. Either way, it’s not difficult to encounter situations that are a lot easier to navigate if you have access to a borescope.
These handy viewing tools allow you to inspect small spaces that would otherwise be hard (or even impossible) to reach easily or without disassembly. Budget-friendly borescopes are now available for less than $100, allowing more people than ever before to reap the benefits of these helpful probes.
While each borescope is unique, the basic premise remains the same in all cases. Borescopes consist of a probe that features a camera at its distal end. The other end of the borescope either has an LCD screen that allows you to see what the camera does, or a USB port that you can easily attach to your laptop or smartphone. Some borescopes come with a set of controls, while the more basic models only give you a cable to work with.
Using a borescope for the first time — whether to diagnose a problem or to check that everything is OK — can be exciting, but also a little daunting. How do you control a borescope?
1. Read the Instruction Manual
Each borescope is a little different. It is, therefore, always a good idea to read the instruction manual before you road-test your new borescope. Reading the manual won’t only tell you how to control your particular borescope, but it will also help you ascertain in which conditions you can safely use the borescope without breaking it.
Before you begin using a borescope, always make sure that you have the right borescope for the job.
To inspect wet or damp areas, it is important that the borescope is waterproof, for instance, and you will also want to check whether the cables are of the right length and diameter. Remember that a rigid borescope cannot be maneuvered around corners and twists, while these probes are great for people who need access to areas that are just out of reach, including, for instance, attics or chimneys. Flexible borescopes can, meanwhile, be curved around corners and bends, making them perfect for inspecting engine cylinders or plumbing.
Once you have determined that the borescope you have can do what you need it to, you are nearly ready to get to work. Do make sure that the borescope is fully charged before you feed the probe into the target area, especially if you think it will take a while to inspect the space.
2. Prepare Your Working Space
While borescopes are designed to allow users to access small, tight, enclosed, and tricky-to-reach spaces that would otherwise need to be disassembled or even demolished, you will have a significantly easier time carrying out your inspection if you prepare your environment before you start probing.
That means removing as many obstacles as you can. If you’re going to inspect a crawl space, for instance, moving any furniture and other objects out of the way first will help. (The borescope won’t need all that space, but you might!) If you are using your borescope to view a pipe or tube, cleaning away as much debris or dirt as possible will help your probe enter the site and allow the camera to remain as clean as possible. Are you going to be using a USB borescope that connects to your laptop? You will also need a flat and clean surface to place your laptop on.
3. Insert the Probe
Inserting the probe and maneuvering it to the desired location will likely be the most daunting task for new borescope users. Before you get started, check that the diameter of the probe is appropriate for the space you are going to inspect. Since rigid borescopes are straightforward to use, we’ll briefly describe how to feed a flexible borescope probe into the working space you are trying to get a good look at.
Assuming that you are familiar with the shape of the pipe, tube, or other working area, slowly insert the probe and steer it to its destination. As you do so, it is important to look at the screen — whether on your phone, laptop, or the borescope’s own LCD screen if it has one — the entire time. This has the dual purpose of allowing you to view your working area the entire time to discover problems, and simultaneously making sure that the borescope will not get stuck.
In cases where it is important to obtain pictures or footage to share with others, such as for home inspections, it is helpful to have access to a USB borescope. As you view the footage in real time, you can use your laptop to record it with software such as OBS.
If you are using an articulating borescope, with a camera that can rotate, the borescope will typically be equipped with a joystick control mechanism. It is helpful to get some practice before you actually use the borescope for the first time. You can practice using the joystick in any open space.
If you are using a dual-camera borescope, you will be able to switch between the two lenses with the borescope’s controls. Again, practice this beforehand to ensure you have mastered the controls.
Once you have reached your target area and completed your inspection, you are ready to retract the probe. Do so slowly and methodically; do not simply yank the probe out, or you risk damaging the working area.
After successfully extracting the borescope from the working space, clean the borescope and put it in its case — where it will be ready for another job.
How to Control a Borescope
In summary, most modern borescopes are easy to control and maneuver. Because each borescope will have different features, it is crucial that you familiarize yourself with them before you use a borescope for the first time. Make sure that your borescope is appropriate for the task, and insert the probe slowly and carefully to be able to view the inside of your working area well.